Interview: Meet Jason Steris, the New CEO of Troy Lee Designs

Nov 20, 2018 at 9:28
by Richard Cunningham  
Troy Lee Design HQ
Founder Troy Lee (left) with TLD's new CEO, Jason Steris.

Jason Steris recently took the helm of Troy Lee Designs as Chief Executive Officer. Steris has been on the TLD board of directors and is fresh off of a 23-year stint that propelled him from salesman to CEO at Volcom, a successful lifestyle brand. He's the second CEO to come from outside TLD to lead the famous protection and apparel label since the private investment firm Spanos, Barber, Jesse & Co purchased a controlling interest in 2016 and put Dave Bertram in charge.

Bertram came from the motorcycle end of the business and was also a success story, helping to build the Cycle Gear brand into a powerhouse parts and accessory retail chain. Under Bertram, TLD gained some traction in the moto and mountain bike segments. From an outsider's perspective, however, the brand maintained its momentum, but did not seem to flourish as anticipated under the new management team.

Now, all eyes are on Jason Steris - avowed surfer, moto-rider and recreational mountain biker - to see if he has the magic touch to blend an efficient corporate structure with the organically grown technical lifestyle brand that bears the name of an artist who founded the TLD empire painting helmets in his father's garage over 30 years ago.
Troy Lee Design HQ
Troy Lee Designs headquarters in Corona, California.



Meet Jason Steris: CEO Troy Lee Designs


Tell us a little about who you are and where you came from...


I'm 48 years old, born in 1970 in Laguna Beach, California.

I spent most of my career at Volcom. My background was in sales, and I eventually moved into operations before joining the executive leadership team.

I’m a big fan of functional products and I love working with passionate people. Being honest and transparent is very important to me, and I see myself as someone that can lead the troops through the good times and also challenging times. It’s important that everyone is having fun and progressing as individuals, otherwise it becomes monotonous, which creates a stale work environment. I place a very high value on my team and the hard work and commitment everyone puts into the business. You can’t take stuff this for granted. If you have good people, you don’t want to lose them.

I grew up in Laguna Beach and still live there today with my awesome wife and two young kids. I grew up surfing, skateboarding, skiing/snowboarding, riding motocross and BMX. Action sports have always been a huge part of my life. My first love is surfing and I surf as much as I can while having a full-time job. Early morning sessions and surf trips a few times a year is mandatory. My kids love surfing too, so it’s fun to take them out on the weekends and teach them about the ocean.

I was more of a recreational two-wheeled guy growing up, but always loved the sports and continued riding dirt bikes through my adulthood and more recently picked up on mountain bikes. So, I have a passion and deep respect for the sports that TLD represents, which makes it much easier to come to work every day.

One thing I really enjoy is working with the athletes and making products to better serve their needs. During my time at Volcom, we spent many years developing some of the best outerwear for snowboarders, which was heavily influenced by our riders. I see many similarities at TLD for this same approach in both moto and bike. Getting to meet some of the TLD athletes so far has been inspiring and I value these relationships and the importance of what they do for the brand and sports.

Board and bike share some cultural characteristics. Surfers, snowboarders and mountain bikers lust after the dream trips or the rush we get from pushing our personal boundaries. Tapping into the elements of Mother Nature and chasing the next session is always on our minds.

What was the attraction for you to leave a large board/casual business at Volcom to run a smaller, technically-oriented brand like Troy Lee Designs?


After 23 years at Volcom it was time for a break and ultimately a new challenge. Post Volcom, I spent two
Troy Lee Design HQ
Troy Lee at work.

Troy Lee: I have known Jason for a little bit because we both live in Laguna Beach; he is a partner with Laguna Surf and Sport, which is down the street from our TLD store. He has been a good guy to get to know, and I told the board we should have a guy like Jason on the board, who has built a brand and knows how to lead.

So much is changing with bikes and the bike industry that we needed someone with his expertise to keep us on track. He respects the art of TLD, the athletes, and knows what it takes to make killer product, so it only seemed right to bring him on as our CEO. I am still loving going into work more than I ever have and plan on doing this for a long time. It's bitchin' to have someone I can trust running the day-to-day for us.
and a half years to work on consulting projects and to spend quality time with my family. I also joined a few companies as a board member, with TLD being one of them.

In terms of taking on a new chapter, my favorite time at Volcom was when the company was private and about the same size as TLD. It was a family atmosphere and we did things for the love of the sports and just lived the lifestyle and made products that we liked. I see TLD in the same light as it sits today. It’s a family environment with passionate people running the business for all the right reasons. I personally reached a point where I wanted to get back to work and be a part of a team again. Working with a world class brand and great people were the two most important factors for me.

The timing was really good and it just sort of came together. Also, with Troy being so involved in the day-to-day business, it gave me confidence to jump into a new space. For a company that has been around for multiple decades, it’s rare to have an active founder, and that honestly drove my decision to join the company. I figured if Troy was here, I could partner with someone that knew the history, bleeds the brand, and collectively, we could pave the future.

How did your relationship with Troy Lee Designs build to the point where you joined forces?


It really just happened organically through the TLD board of directors relationship. When I originally joined the board I was getting into mountain bike riding and thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about the moto and bike industry. In hindsight, that allowed me to develop an understanding of the business and also get to know the people, which was a helpful step before joining full-time.

Troy Lee Design HQ
TLD's headquarters is open to the public. The foyer includes a museum and factory store.

One of the recurring stories from within the cycling business is that the injection of sophisticated corporate leadership from outside industries most often ends in disaster. How do you protect Troy Lee Designs’ organic vibe and, at the same time, aggressively grow and reorganize the business?


That’s a great question, I have seen this first hand in the surf industry and I believe there is validity to this point. For starters, I’m not going to pretend to be a moto or bike expert and I don’t see myself as a corporate leader. The spirit lives and breathes with Troy and the entire TLD crew. I’m not here to make big changes to the brand or make TLD something it’s not.

Preserving the core brand DNA while evolving is critical to any brand's future. The TLD brand foundation is solid and we cannot alienate our existing consumer while looking for growth. It’s my job to listen to the experts and guide the company in a way that everyone is part of the journey and believes in the direction we are heading. Safety, art, paint, the athletes, and the race team are key ingredients that make up our DNA and those will never be jeopardized.

The culture of any company is only as good as its people and how they work together as a team. Bringing everyone together with a shared vision and executing at the highest level is our priority. If you do the right things over and over and stay focused on the brand experience, the business will thrive.

Is there a perfect size for a business like TLD, or is there always the potential that a strong brand name, combined with good products and serendipitous timing can lead to Red Bull status?


We are not going to get ahead of ourselves. We have room to grow by elevating our efforts and becoming more efficient with our existing categories and global wholesale partners. The long-term future is dependent on how well we execute over the next few years. TLD is a special brand with unique DNA that may open up unchartered opportunities, but for now, we are focused on everything right in front of us.

Historically, the bike side seemed like a secondary business for TLD, but lately, there seems to be a focused effort towards our market. What are your thoughts?


Absolutely. TLD is very focused and committed to bike. The progression of the sport is mind-blowing and we are very inspired. Our Bike division is an important part of the TLD brand and overall business that has been with us since the early downhill period of the 90’s. We see continued focus on this division through product innovation and we remain focused on helmets and tech gear for both genres. We have an amazing group of athletes that we look to for guidance and product feedback. These guys and gals are living it and we are stoked to be working with everyone. Stik has put together a great bike program that we are all very proud of and fully invested as we look to the future.

With the millennials maturing and melting into day to day life, there seems to be a new wave of athletes coming into bike and moto who are displacing them – a group that Volcom seems to have successfully connected with. Is that a realistic statement? Will this drive stylistic changes for TLD?


Focusing on the next generation was always a hot topic at Volcom. Put it this way, brands have to
Stikman
Craig 'Stikman' Glaspell is TLD's Global Category Director.

Stikman: I think it’s been about three months since Jason (and our new COO Dutch Schultz) came on board and the change here has been refreshing. Everyone is bringing their A-game to work. Jason seems like a leader that empowers us 'experts in the field' to make good decisions that are for the greater good of our customers, the brand and our community, and this ultimately makes us better people. Tariffs, ebikes, supply chain challenges, new protection innovations, how our customers are getting the product - a lot is changing in the bike business that requires us to be smarter. I think this next chapter will make us better listeners.

Company culture is back to focusing on bicycles and motos and having a good time on them. We needed that. The topper in all of this is to see Troy stress free, riding his mountain bike more than he ever has and his creative juices are really firing right now. He keeps it fun and that makes this more than just a job!
evolve and generations do change. This can be style preference or customer behavior - where they shop and how they shop. What we know is things change over time and if we don’t evolve, we will either be passed by or age out.

With that said, we cannot alienate our core consumer looking for new business and chasing trends. That’s the beauty about knowing who you are and what you stand for, and being realistic about how much business is really out there. You can’t be everything to everybody. It’s important to listen to the younger generation and also teach them the history along the way. Mountain biking is still relatively new, and the history isn’t as deep as other sports. It will be fun to watch the market develop into a multi-generation sport and watch the progression of riding and style. It’s our responsibility to stay in tune with the consumer and be relevant as the demographic widens.

Are you having fun? TLD must be like stepping out of limo and getting behind the wheel of a Lambo…


Interesting analogy. I’m having a blast and learning a ton every day. The TLD family has been very supportive and given me the best onboarding experience. The people that I’m meeting have been great, it reminds me of the surf and snow industry. The common thread is passion and commitment. Action sports bring us all together with mutual respect and the love for riding.…





75 Comments

  • + 36
 I want more snakes and eyeballs on my helmet.
  • + 6
 AND MOAR SKULLZ!!!
  • - 6
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 22, 2018 at 11:51) (Below Threshold)
 I want two MIPS layers. No, make it three!
  • + 8
 Rad! I saw some new eyeball themes yesterday in the pipeline haha, just a bit, for the eyeball fans that still exist out there lol. Funny, we pivoted a bit to go away from the rowdy eyeballs and laser cats, to appeal to the vocal consumers looking for more tame designs-but, there will always be a place for the fun artwork that Troy and the artists create-im looking forward to both-the crazy stuff and some clean stuff on the lids. Stik-from TLD
  • + 2
 and a lil bit cheap please.
  • + 1
 A colab with grind designs tattoos.. I'd buy the shh outta that!
  • + 16
 recently bought some TLD base layer vests. The vests, about the size of a handkerchief. Came in fancy sliding boxes big enough to hold about 4 DVD's! I reckon the boxes probably cost as much to produce as the contents!! Big Grin

Lovely kit but save, the consumer a few £$£$ with less fancy an frills on throw'a'way packaging
  • + 11
 @nojzilla agreed, hence the reason when I moved into running the product line, those were dropped, to be reborn at a later date...a simple ziplock style bag would suffice. We're listening! Cheers!
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: lots of fake TLD on EBay, can't you take any action ?
  • + 8
 @pigman65: We have a firm that goes after all the fakes on Alibaba and ebay, constant job...so, we are taking action but hard to keep up. We need to do a page on our site that shoes the difference between Fake and Authentic, its pretty easy to spot-we just have not got to that part yet.
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: fakes have been like a gateway drug for me.bought some likeded them then fell apart moments later so bought O.G gear. Now my son is brand aweare of tld and I'm not going to get that fake shit for him to only break.so weirdly it has a place.let them make cheap gloves!
  • + 2
 @stikmanglaspell: please make skyline shorts with a longer inseam! love the current ones but us tall folks can't wear them with knee pads without gorby gap
  • + 13
 My experience with Volcom is always well designed, reasonably subtle and well made. Where as TLD subtle is 3 eyeballs instead of 4.
  • + 9
 I really hope this works out for the best. I am a huge fan of TLD. The track record of bike/moto companies after private equity gets involved and starts doing private equity things has been... mixed. See: One Industires.

The fact they have turned over the executive leadership means they weren’t seeing results fast enough.
  • + 6
 You need to please the shareholders with fast growth and return on investments ! Who cares about the company ? Most of them probably don't even have a clue about TLD, what it does and what it represents.
  • - 2
 Maybe it’s for the best, but replacing a national champion Moto guy of exceptional character with a surfer raises my skepticism meter
  • + 2
 I am a huge fan as well and 7 yr employee and 25 plus year friend of Troy's from the MTB racing world. The main take away in your observation, is the ONE industries founders departure long ago-Troy is still our guiding light, north star, daily mad man (yeah, I mean that with love haha). I would have left if I wasn't confident in the future.
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: I was expressing skepticism not criticizing someone I don't know. And my reference was to Dave Bertram, one of the most gentlemanly men I have ever known and an absolute hero on a dirt bike, plus one of the driving forces behind the success of Cycle Gear.
  • + 3
 @codypup: I wouldn't be skeptical, I am there everyday, Jason is a good fit. Dave wasn't replaced per-say, he moved on and wanted to get back to his home in norcal, he did some good stuff during his time with us and like you said, a total gentleman and a beast on a bicycle too.
  • + 9
 Keep the Ace jersey and short line alive please. The three pocket jersey with zip phone pocket in the middle is a winner, as are the softer fabrics.
  • + 8
 I love TLD helmets, moto dh shorts, and gloves. They've been my go-to for a while now.
  • + 9
 TLD- Great kit, styling from the 90’s puts me off a bit.
  • + 3
 Solid jerseys make up the bulk of our trail line, and top sellers....and in the trail shorts category, its pretty much 95% solids. Maybe you mean our older generation trail stuff? or past DH gear? Regardless-always interested in people's opinions of our kit. Cheers!
  • + 2
 @stikmanglaspell: Maybe it's just me, but I think that some people still find very loud your stiles because of the big logo that is almost everywhere. Look at the ruckus jerseys for example: block colors, "quiet" designs, and then a giant logo on the sleeve. Riders with a motocross background are not bothered, but the growing crowd of mountain enthusiasts coming to mountain bike might be a little put off by that. I mean, even if you look at the photo of you and Mr Troy Lee, you see a perfect exemple of the two stiles: while Mr Lee wears a t shirt full of logos, you are in full black with just a logo on the cap, that is in a non central position. And by the way, it's the same that happened with Volcom Snow, where you started from skate t shirts full of Volcom diamonds and designed a much more subtle collection, where the "Guide" stuff is even more minimalist than Norrona or ArcTeryx. In mtb you are technically way ahead of Norrona or Patagonia, it's a pity not to cater for that growing niche because of stiles.
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: now I see I confused the pictures with you and Jason. Sorry, for that!
  • + 2
 It's also the moto influence, @kipvr. Troy Lee mtb carries forward some of that lineage in the mtb styling. Less skate influence of a company like Volcom for instance, fortunately. Overall good for some, not for others. They also have the blacked out with subtle logo going for those looking for more understated fashion. Don't change (too much) Troy Lee. Your formula works.
  • + 0
 @stikmanglaspell: bring back more bright colours! stick to your roots!
  • + 4
 My fav maker of helmets. I own 5 of them. Deadly fit and style. Troy as been pioneering the the most stylish helmets since day 1. Some of the shorts as of late hafe been rather chincey though.
  • + 1
 Amongst all Mr CEO, welcome in the fantastic bike business. Check your French distributor's portfolio. As a specialist of Aftermarket depending of wholesalers, (bike business has the same specificities as motorbike business) you'll understand what it means when a distributor has less and less P&A brands in its offer. Hopefully pure players are well worked, but CXperience pays it in-store when all products are on sale online...A pain for all retailers to sell your brand (except in rich area like Swiss border or Morzine where money doesn't count - lol). From what I know, Fox Europe seems to have a better managed pricing policy between channels (their salesforce is more professionnal, it's a subsidiary). You can do more, and better!
Out of that - my Open Face Flaming is lovely kept and showcased ;-)
  • + 3
 I really like my TLD helmet and kit but both items could use better QC. button on shorts broke after one month and dial on helmet broke after one month as well
  • + 4
 @momsnub we admittedly had a bad stretch of certain items, we have stepped up QC, changed vendors on some items and slowing down to focus on making quality product across the board. I am the resident jerkoff that rides as much as I can and will complain if something isn't up to snuff-along with Troy and the rest of us bike nerds at the shop. Like I said elsewhere, we are listening better than ever, not just flat out making everything everyone tells us to make. Thanks for the helmet purchase too! and hit up customer service if you have any further problems.
  • + 4
 Mentioning transparency first thing during the interview seemed a little odd.
  • + 1
 Been a TLD fan for a long time now. All the way back to when Troy Lee was known specifically for custom moto helmets. I sure hope that the brand doesn't recreate the Volcom monstrosity. They may have been successful financially amongst young kids trying to be Blink 182, but the brand hasn't been respected since about 1998.
  • + 10
 Volcom is still respected, ask snowboarders. Pat Moore's pro model Capita was one of the most desired (and filmed) decks just a couple of years ago. I love(d) blink-182 but you should associate them with Hurley, not Volcom.
  • + 1
 It’s pretty simple really, if you continue to make the same style of product you are gong to continue to appeal to the same demographic. So unless you grow your share of the pie by recruiting more people into your aesthetic brand (unlikely) you need to grow your brand while maintaining true to its core values. In other words, you need at least three flavours of pasta sauce to appeal to 78% of the market.
  • + 4
 All time favorite gear brand. Style. Fit. Durability. Win.
  • + 1
 Dang, stoked to hear that, thank you so much @jimeg
  • + 1
 Tld is still my favourite gear. Nice cuts fit well. Panama days are gone. Just nice clean classic lines now. Amazing function in materials nowadays. I hope nothing changes
  • + 1
 I think the designs of the lids is fine, but need to change a little bit the design of clothes..miss the cyclops. I am BIG fan of TLD, good luck with the task.
  • + 1
 So is TLD soon to be bought up by fashion mega brand Kering Group?

Could never see TLD kit needing to get louder. I guess now we'll find out if that's actually possible.
  • + 2
 Not sure you have heard, but just google Kering's latest moves-they are getting out of sports lifestyle (Spinning off Puma for starters and rumors to spin off their other sport brands)-point being, they are very focused on high end fashion right now. I doubt very much we'd be a target.
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: That is good to hear!

Bring back the Network Bike Tee! I have two that I wear constantly in the warmer months. Don't like the fit of the Skyline Tee.
  • + 2
 they should bring back the history collage design on the D3
  • + 2
 Id like to see a limited run of MTB helmets recreating all mcgraths old Anaheim paint jobs. I will never forget flipping through old Moto mags an seeing taillights frenched into the back of an old bell Moto...2 maybe? Or the bills under the clear coat? The list goes on, but those helmets made McGrath even a more rad.
  • + 1
 I like TLD but their helmets just make me look like a knob.

(I have a big ol long head)
  • + 1
 1. Bring back the TLD edition Mazda truck! 2. Military designs for the vet riders 3. More shark mouths. ....over and out.
  • + 1
 I still buy TLD but the quality of riding shorts has went down hill. I'm still a fan but please fix
  • + 0
 I said above, our 2018 line, was totally reinvented, every single product, so we have addressed numerous issues in a very short amount of time, but constantly doing the work to get better.
  • + 2
 @stikmanglaspell: appreciate the feedback but what is TLD doing to raise the quality of the 2018 clothing line.
  • + 0
 @flyr: far superior fabrics for starters, revised construction methods on many items as well. We did so much work to the 18' line and got rid of kit that was a distraction. I think 'focused' is the best word to describe things now.
  • + 1
 My velcro fly on all my skyline shorts no longer works. Every single pair.
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: I don't want to bash the company,I have a few things to say regarding customer service and quality of product. Again I am still a loyal customer. TLD helmets are top of the line. Kits are sick.......maybe message me.
  • + 3
 JSD now
  • + 1
 Uhhh... CEO’s do not run the day to day. They create strategy and where to invest to best support that strategy.
  • + 1
 Seems like a cool dude. Sucks that "private equity firms" that know nothing about the sport own them though...
  • + 3
 @Beez177 PE doesn't 'own' the brand, it's a stake in the business, with Troy still retaining majority. I have been in the bike biz for over 25 yrs, ive been through 5 buyouts or PE deals, 3 of them were misery, the other 2 being really good for the brands (This TLD one being one of the good ones thus far). Our PE group, SBJ has been great, they listen and learn from our little tribe of bike and moto fanatics, they love what they got into for the passionate people and customers....it is the bike biz after all, there isn't some massive pot of gold-were all in it because we love bike culture, etc...ya know?
  • + 3
 @stikmanglaspell: fair enough, but if there is no pot o' gold then why would a non industry PE be investing?
  • + 2
 just wait for the new TLD yoga line to come out soon.
  • + 3
 Never say never, but, no.
  • + 2
 @stikmanglaspell: with checkers and flames. It's the future! Racers already wearing skin tight race gear.
  • + 1
 @makripper: Hmmm, you make a fair point. The lycra skinsuit ban is being ignored. You are on to something. lol
  • + 1
 Troy Lee says: IT WILL BE EXTREMELY PAINFUL....FOR YOU
  • + 1
 Ohhhh yeah!!!! It’s on!!!!
  • + 1
 Love TLD and always have. Good luck and don't break it.
  • + 1
 TLD is like marmite.
  • - 1
 Please start making good stuff not what you are doing right now. Thanks ,from a costumer.
  • + 1
 LIVE FAST DIE OLD
  • + 1
 More grom gear please.
  • + 2
 We've been nervous to go full tilt, but this year with some new grom helmets, grom gear, and its selling out fast, so-yeah, we are stoked with the grom movement! #TLDgroms
  • + 1
 @stikmanglaspell: Neg propped you by accident, sorry dude. Love TLD Gear. Never ride without Air Gloves, a D3 and some Moto shorts.

Loving the responses and looking forward to some grom gear to get my little dude kitted out
  • + 1
 Yeah J-Dawg..
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